Subway fair? No, series is still great

NEW YORK -- If you're tired of the Subway Series, you're tired of baseball.


I've heard all the arguments against the expansion, and, in some cases, even the continuation, of interleague play. I've even made some of them myself.

But although interleague might have jumped the shark in many cities -- really, did it serve any great purpose to have the New York Yankees play six games against the Atlanta Braves? -- the Subway Series is still a whale of a good time, not only for the fans but even for the media and the players.

If you believe the P.C. rhetoric out of the clubhouse that the annual intracity championship is "just another series" or that any Yankees-Mets game is "just another game," you must not have been in Citi Field on Sunday night.

And you certainly weren't in the Yankees' raucous clubhouse after their 6-5 win when, over the din of the media horde surrounding CC Sabathia's locker, you could clearly hear the voices of several Yankees cackling -- or should I say clucking? -- in the shower over the words of Mets closer Frank Francisco.

"You believe that guy?" one of them could be heard saying. "He lays that chicken stuff on us, then we win two out of three and he winds up on the DL!"

That was followed by the sound of uproarious laughter.

So, if you want to believe the sanitized, on-the-record, for-public-consumption quotes about Sunday night's game or this weekend's series being no different from any other, be my guest. And I have a bridge in Flushing beyond the right-center-field fence I would like to sell you.

There was nothing ordinary about this game or this series from the moment Francisco uttered his infamous "bunch of chickens" line that spawned one of the great tabloid front pages of recent times.

And although the Yankees and their manager maintained, and continued to maintain, that it was all in good fun, the scene in the clubhouse told you that there was a little more to it.

"Not bad for a buncha chickens," Nick Swisher crowed after the Yankees won on Robinson Cano's monstrous eighth-inning home run to the apple orchard in dead center field, hours after an expected pitchers' duel fizzled and not long after his own error helped the Mets overcome a 4-0 deficit to start the game over, at 5-5, after six innings.

There was nothing ordinary about the intensity of this game or of the crowds this weekend or even of the quality of play.

These were good, well-played, hard-fought games by two teams that really seemed to want to beat one another, in front of the kind of crowds we don't see often enough at baseball games in this town anymore.

"I just think a couple of things that were said kinda spiced up the series a little bit, which is great, because rivalry series are awesome," said Swisher, who never goes the P.C. route. "And to get that fire and energy back, I mean this ballpark was rocking. Just to be part of that, to come in here and take two out of three, take five out of six on the year, that's not too shabby.

"I feel like we wanted to go out there and win. I feel like there was a little added something."

The three games at Citi Field drew a total of 124,677 fans, including Sunday night's 42,364, the largest crowd in the ballpark's four-year history, which broke the record set Saturday night of 42,122.

And the three games at Yankee Stadium drew 146,151, including the team's only three sellouts of the year other than Opening Day.

But it wasn't just the sheer numbers that made it exciting.

"I don't want to say it's just another game," Cano said. "You could feel the passion down on the field."

Indeed, from R.A. Dickey's first pitch of the game -- a 78 mph knuckleball that Derek Jeter topped back to the mound -- through David Wright's white-knuckle 10-pitch at-bat against Rafael Soriano in the ninth that ended in a strikeout, to Ike Davis' lineout to right that finally ended the game, the place was on fire, even when a rainstorm that began in the last half-inning sent many scurrying for cover.

There was at least one good brawl in the upper deck in the eighth inning, and, for one of the few times all season, the Yankees found themselves in a road ballpark that didn't sound like Yankee Stadium.

"I thought there was some emotion in these games, I really did," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think a lot of it has to do with where we're both in the standings."

I think more of it has to do with where we are in the country. New York City is still a baseball town in many ways, and there can be no bigger villain for Mets fans than the Yankees, just as it was for an earlier generation of Brooklyn Dodgers fans.

This annual six-game mini-war is their only chance at exacting some measure of revenge for what has been mostly a one-sided relationship. If you lose, or cut back on, interleague play, you lose some of that.

Girardi is one of those people who believes that interleague play has run its course, that it contributes to imbalance and unfairness in the schedule, and he probably thinks, like his predecessor, Joe Torre, that all the hype and added coverage the Subway Series brings to his team is pretty much a nuisance.

Girardi says he would like to see the Yankees and Mets play just three times a year, "so we can always have a clear winner."

But in spite of the foolishness of some interleague matchups -- Yankees-Reds, anyone? -- these annual six games provide a midseason jolt of caffeine for a long season in which far too many games can feel meaningless and uninteresting.

"It's all about the crowd," Mark Teixeira said. "It's all about just knowing that everyone in New York is watching this game. It makes it a little more exciting. It makes it special."

I know all the arguments against interleague play. The matchups are often silly. The unbalanced schedule gives some teams an unfair advantage in the wild-card race. It cheapens the World Series.

And, in a lot of cases, it could go away forever and no one would miss it.

But in this one case -- Yankees vs. Mets, in front of the most passionate baseball fans in the country for bragging rights to the greatest city in the world -- the loss of interleague play would leave a void no games against the Cleveland Indians or the Chicago White Sox or the Detroit Tigers could ever hope to fill.

There have been years when six regular-season games between the Yankees and Mets seemed like six too many.

This year, it hardly seemed like enough.